FORT STEWART, Ga. -- In a conference call from his headquarters in Northern Iraq March 11, Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commanding general of Task Force Marne and U.S. Division-North, as well as the 3rd Infantry Division, told reporters that the number of troops in his area of responsibility will decrease from 22,000 to 8,600 by Sept. 1.

The drawdown in USD-N relates to the drawdown to 50,000 troops in Iraq by President Barack Obama's end of August deadline. Under his plan, all Soldiers in Iraq will be conducting advise and assist missions by the end of August, then all remaining U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, according to the Iraq-U.S. Security Agreement.

In addition, Cucolo said that the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters will remain in Iraq through Nov. 3.

"We took transfer from the 25th Infantry Division on Nov. 4, and we'll be here through Nov. 3 of this year, at least," Cucolo said.

Since their arrival in Iraq, the Soldiers of TF Marne have been partnering with the Iraqi Security Forces, but that too will soon change.

"The partnering (with the ISF) will continue through the spring and into the summer," Cucolo explained. "With more partnering, they get better, and the need becomes less and less. By September, we will go from partnering to advising."

This partnering was in full force for the Iraqi Parliamentary Elections on March 7. Cucolo said his troops are prepared for any situation that may follow such a historic event.

"What we're doing (now) is going through 'what if' drills, because we're not sure what the results are," said Cucolo. "We're waiting like everyone else is."

As for the performance of the Iraqis on Election Day, Cucolo said he is impressed with what he saw.

"The ISF performance during the election was absolutely superb," he said. "They dealt with things professionally. They showed incredible bravery finding and diffusing IEDs; I was really impressed with their command and control."

Cucolo said he was impressed with how proactively the ISF prepared.

"I was incredibly proud to be present in Iraq (that) day; it was inspiring," Cucolo said. "In my seven provinces, we had no Iraqi civilians killed. There were 11 injured, but they'll all be fine."

Even the lead-up to Election Day went better than expected, according to Cucolo.

"We didn't see the pre-election violence that we thought we would," said the 3rd ID commander. "We prepared for the worst, and anything better than that is good."

It will be several months, "into summer," according to Cucolo, before newly-elected officials will take office.

But, he said, 3rd ID has, thus far, lived up to its mission.

"We're on track now to do what we set out to do."

Page last updated Thu March 18th, 2010 at 15:30